Friday, February 23, 2007

Is the Army being torn apart?

Recently House Speaker Pelosi's blog, the Gavel, expands significantly on a NYT story about the extent to which Bush's "surge" in Iraq is straining our military resources. The Gavel notes from her provide sound bite statements from a number of sources including Gen Schoonmaker, Army Guard sources and analysts that portray a concern that Bush may be breaking the Army. The New York Times story details Pentagon plans to send National Guard troops back to Iraq next year with potentially an adjustment to the period of time between deployments. It is inferred that the Bush administration change to Reserve and Guard deployments “abandonment of rules that limited call-ups of Guard members by the Bush administration in January” is a catalyst for destruction.

What is missed is that the policy change for Reserve and Guard deployments is better in many respects for those soldiers. Previous deployments were 18 months long with significant training at a distant military facility followed by a year long tour in Iraq. Ask any Guard or Reserve soldier that has deployed and they will candidly tell you that much of the 6 month period spent in training is wasted with administrative bureaucracy, redundant training events, unimaginative training plans, Active Duty trainer goading and insufficient resources which severely stress the unit even before deployment. Couple this with 6 additional months away from home and it is a great tribute to Guard and Reserve soldiers that they remain in the ranks.

I’m always happy when Congress takes an interest in Guard and Reserve issues. The fact that there is a concern for Guard and Reserve forces is always a good thing, because, frankly the Active Component has not been kind to the Guard and Reserve in the past – however much of that was due to the same congressional organization that is using Reserve and Guard preparation now as another barb to throw at the Bush administration.

The Active Army, Guard and Reserve are coming to a better understanding of capabilities, resources, training needs and equipment needs. No where was I treated as much as an equal than during my year of service as a Reserve Officer assigned to MNSTC-I – an active unit in Iraq. I believe the new leadership of the Army has had to count and come to appreciate the Guard and Reserve and will provide for needs as they arise.

With respect to the force being torn apart… every soldier spends up to 6 years per contract or commission on duty – as this conflict has lasted 4 years – conceivably 2/3rds of the soldiers have had an opportunity to leave in lieu of re-enlistment. All new soldiers today joined a volunteer force where the deployment cycles were already well known and defined. With the exception of 10000 soldiers on stop loss – it is 100% voluntary to serve in the Army… essentially if you wanted to leave in the last 4 years – you could. Its been a recurring theme with some nay-sayers that the Army is stressed and self-destructing… I don’t see that in the numbers…. I don’t hear it when I talk with soldiers…. I didn’t feel it in Iraq… I don’t read it in soldier blogs. I usually see it in articles and posts from defeatist… the press seeking another Bush bashing story… people that purport to know what is best for soldiers that have never served a day in uniform…

If you want to know the truth about the matter – seek an accurate assessment – ask a soldier.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Veteran's Organizations

I have been a member of the American Legion for 15 years now. They invite any service member that has at least one day of honorable Military Service during several periods to join their ranks. As a Reserve Soldier, the American Legion welcomed me before I was sent to a Combat zone and provided a source for me to support fellow veterans. You can also join the Legion if a parent or grandparent was a veteran as a sons of the Legion or Auxillary member. The American Legion Riders is a support organization where you can combine Motorcycle riding and veteran’s support activities.

I joined the VFW upon my return from Iraq when I was finally eligible (after 22 Years of Military service). Part of the reason I joined was their visibility in Iraq and upon my return. The VFW was available as needed to support soldier needs for Combat Veterans. Their membership eligibility is much more restrictive as it is only open to combat veterans for full membership. As they state in their webpage “Our common bond is the battlefield, whether it is service in the Persian Gulf, Korea, Kosovo, the war on terrorism or peace-keeping expeditionary campaigns. Your courage and sacrifice have made a difference in preserving and defending world peace.”

To be eligible for membership in AMVETS, you must have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, including the National Guard and Reserves, anytime after Sept. 15, 1940. Additionally, unless still serving, your discharge must have been under honorable conditions. I’m not a member of this organization and don’t know much about them other than its difficult to find out what eligibility is on their website.

Anyway, I guess I’m entering this post to be a salesman for the military Veteran’s organizations that exist out there. Much of the work done by these groups is behind the scenes and in support of national agendas that are specified up front for perspective members. They are worth a look if you’re a veteran of any description interested in giving more after leaving the service – regardless of the number of years served. Most Veteran local posts to include mine, do concrete things for local community veteran’s and their families….not just parades, but provide support to Patriot Guards, assist with veteran’s services, Scolorships, place flags on veteran’s graves and assist at Veteran’s homes for the infirmed veterans. These organizations are much more than a local watering hole.

What I’m saying here – if your veteran supporting inclined – join a veteran organization – participate in the camaraderie of veterans and support in a real sense the organization of your choosing that is on the front lines to preserve Veteran services. The worst that can happen is you may have to hear the old timers tell their stories.... for some of us that appreciate Veteran's that is not so bad. The best result would be for you to enjoy participating in active support to our veteran's.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Colonel Ted Westhusing

Col Ted Westhusing died in Iraq in June 2005. I recently looked up his name in an internet search as I was searching sites related to events that occurred when I was stationed in Iraq. I was disturbed to read the conspiracy theories and conjecture that Col Westhusing’s name had attached to it in several sites. Many of the sites suggested that Col Westhusing was murdered in a plot from a contractor in country. These site contrive all manner of reason’s that support their theories that Col Westhusing was killed. All of the theories are manipulations of the truth.

As noted in several sites, friends and family struggle with the idea that Westhusing could have killed himself. He was a loving father and husband and a devout Catholic. He was an extraordinary intellect and had mastered ancient Greek and Italian. He had less than a month before his return home. It seemed impossible that anything could crush the spirit of a man with such a powerful sense of right and wrong.

Officially, Ted died of a non-combat injury at Camp Dublin near the Baghdad Airport. The Army conducted an investigation into the death, which was concluded and reported to have been suicide.

We served MNSTC-I together - He was the Chief of CPATT working for MG Fil who was a demanding boss. Ted was extremely frustrated, tired, and irritable in the days prior to his death. Unfortunately - my last discussion with Ted was a bitter fight over Installation issues for one of the many Police units which was troubling him and causing him considerable angst. The fight was one of considerable passion on both sides to do what was right in our minds to support the burgeoning Iraqi Police units being created. Col Westhusing and I fought for over an hour until spent and concluded to work the matter out at a later date. I left for my 2 week R&R a day later and a few days before COL Westhusing’s death. Upon my return I had many discussions with COL Westhusing’s subordinates, peers and others as we were a close knit group and had daily interaction over the events on the day of his death. I am sure that Col Westhusing’s death was a suicide as reported.

I have posted on my blog one of the last pictures taken with Col Westhusing just weeks before his death. We have talked about our sorrow many times since at the loss of a dedicated warrior. His death stunned all who knew him. All of us that worked with Col Westhusing wondered whether we missed signs of depression. Typical of many in the environment Col Westhusing had been losing weight and not sleeping well. He was a perfectionist and very hard on himself and was well regarded for his efforts to corral the Iraqi Ministry of Interior to make progress in training Iraqi police and Police special forces.

Col Westhusing served his country as a volunteer in Iraq. He had one of the toughest jobs in MNSTC-I by many accounts. He was driven to get the job done to the army standard which may have been the source of his frustrations. We did not become friends in that trying environment because we were soldiers that did the job with blind stoicism… perhaps we should have talked on a more personal level, but there was never enough time. He should be honored for his life, not used as a tool for conspiracy theorists in his unfortunate and untimely death.

You can read a reasonble account of his death here

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Army Facilities in Disrepair

A Washington Post article series over the weekend described "The Other Walter Reed," where overdoses, suicide attempts and depression among outpatients are the parallel narrative to the spit-polish hallways of the renowned hospital. The series described the horrible conditions found in the soldier living areas in the Walter Reed complex that face soldiers in Medical hold after service in OIF/OEF theaters. One building was singled out - Building 18, in particular, symbolizes the indifference and neglect that many of the wounded say they experience at Walter Reed.

The Army reacted in un-characteristic manner and it seems the commandant at Walter Reed said that parts of the building had been repaired and soldiers were working to improve the outside of the building, including removing ice and snow. We are told that Walter Reed and Army officials have been "meeting continuously for three days" since the articles began appearing.

It’s a shame that it takes a major expose by a mainstream newspaper to get that kind of action within the Army. I must admit the articles improved The Washington Post news organizations standing in my book.

Many outside the military are not aware of the sorry state of repair of Military facilities for training, maintaining, providing care, feeding and housing soldiers. The responsibility for maintenance of Military facilities was centralized from Local commanders several years ago to the Installation Management Agency (IMA). IMA has never been adequately funded nor lived up to even its basic responsibility for maintaining adequate facilities for soldiers in the Army. Go to any Military Installation and you will find all manner of substandard facilities with mold, leaky roofs, HVAC issues and other major problems. It is even more shameful that conditions for our most vulnerable soldiers, those wounded in Combat, also reflect the neglect found throughout the Army.

The not so simple issue here is the funding – As a soldier I want good equipment to do the job before any funds are expended for facilities… given the limited resources available it is a tough choice that Army Facilities must make for the dollars. The need for transformation dollars, heavy OPTEMPO and other funding demands will exacerbate the issue even further in the Army which shoulders most of the fight with a disproportionately smaller share of the funding. Most Army soldiers are awed by Air Force facilities when we are allowed to see them…. funding and appropriation to soldier needs seems to be key.

At Walter Reed the Commandant said the medical center has received an outpouring of concern about conditions and procedures since the articles appeared and has taken steps to improve what soldiers and their families describe as a messy battlefield of bureaucratic problems and mistreatment. The remainder of soldiers around the globe will not see a change in their facilities except for the worse if the Army must continue to fund operational needs from facility maintenance dollars. I’d certainly like to see The Washington Post open the story up and take a tour of soldier facilities elsewhere as well… I know there is a story to be told that the recruiting posters hide, and the Army Leadership must avoid given other more pressing needs.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Waxman looks for Iraq waste

I continue to see Rep. Henry Waxman Representative for the 30th District in California making headlines investigating the Department of Defense’s actions in contracting for Iraq Reconstruction. From his webpage he proclaims “As the result of an investigation by Rep. Waxman the Army discovered significant violations involving the use of private security services. At one of the Oversight Committee’s first fraud, waste, and abuse hearings this Congress, the Army announced that it was reducing payments to KBR by $19.6 million.”

Rep. Waxman and other members of Congress have been seeking information on contracts entered into by the Administration for reconstruction and development work in Iraq, including several billion dollar contracts with a subsidiary of Halliburton Corporation. His investigating committee has raised questions about the Iraq contracting process. I am all for saving dollars that are not producing necessary results or fraudulently applied. Soldiers and civilian contracting personnel that line their own pockets with kickbacks and contractor perks are equally in need of correction. What is not being done is true repair of the convoluted contracting process born of special interests and pork barrel politics. No task is identified to streamline contracting to the basics of cost, schedule and performance.

Having been in Iraq and seeing the expenditure of large sums of money as well as also serving in Hurricane Katrina Recovery, I can state that oversight is vitally needed for the proper accountability of our tax dollars. However – 20-20 hindsight from a safe and secure conference room is patently unfair to the dedicated contracting officers that must execute with an extremely convoluted set of regulations, conflicting guidance and parochial interests. Throwing out unsubstantiated headline numbers (10 billion dollars in waste) is fodder for the press and not constructive to the process.

In both Iraq and in Hurricane Katrina relief, incredible forces of politicians at local, national level make grand promises with unrealistic expectations. The mechanics are left to a contracting officer to execute. Imagine if I told you to buy a truck to do a job for a neighbor and told you I needed it by tomorrow. You would go to the local truck dealership and buy the truck with the specifications I was able to provide. Based on our experience presumably we would get the job done. Now imagine its in Iraq – you must first wade through 20 pounds of regulations, there are no specifications, the guidance does not cover the conditions your faced with, you must convince the vendor to risk life and limb to deliver the vehicle, the neighbor in this case will not accept the vehicle you chose, the press criticizes you for not getting the vehicle quicker. The vendor passes the costs of transport, security on to you, other vendors cry foul because they could not participate in the contract. Following your trials a congressman will criticize you to make headlines.

That is the life for a contract officer – you will never get it fast enough, be fair to all, cover down on every special interest and locality contracting group, and make every politician happy. The tough thing is that congressman Waxman is shooting at people that make things happen despite the myriad of obstacles, rules and bureaucracy created by his predecessors in Congress. Take a look at your tax rules…now imagine working with 10 times that volume of rules in a war zone, without consensus oversight, doing a task never before accomplished, with inexperienced personnel, with your efforts targeted by the opposition, your contractor personnel killed regularly, and no real cooperation from other agencies. There are vacancies for these less than ideal positions in Iraq now… any takers.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Army Surplus Gear

I realize how fast life is changing now that I'm retired from the Army. I was in my closet at home and I have so many uniforms freshly pressed and hanging there ready for action. I have the BDUs in woodland camoflage, Desert Camoflage Uniforms, Dress Blues, Class A Uniforms and a drawer ful of the pins for rank, branch, Unit Crests etc... All in all - its an eclectic colloection that represents much that made up my life until last year.

As all these costumes take up nearly half my closet its that time that I really have to consider what to do with each item. I look at the BDUs that have my 98th Division patch, airborne wings, air assault wings and I have those fond flashbacks of the time I was that stud 21 year old Lieutenant taking the world by storm. I look at my Desert Camoflage uniforms and I'm reminded of my year in Iraq... before the ACUs were issued... old school attire already as everyone in country and shortly in the Army will be attired in ACUs.

So with the exception of the dress outfits, my uniforms are obsolete... likely to be rendered into hunting outfits or rags .... a tough end and yet another reminder of a cherished career that has come to an end. Pardon me as I get a little misty eyed as I pull the uniforms off the hanger...they will no longer warrant closet space.... I take another step away from my youth and the great thrill that I was honored with - that of being a soldier.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Military Blogs are being Monitored

Military Blogs are being monitored for content – this should come as no surprise… it makes absolute sense that any entity will monitor information flow, opinion, content and will exploit such information whenever possible. In the current conflict that we face it is a sure bet that US, International and enemy personnel monitor all information sources to include Blogs.

Some blogs have stated that this monitoring is somehow a restriction of Blog site freedom of speech… an draconian suppression of the “truth”. I recently experienced the phenomenon with this blog of receiving such monitoring. I will say, there is some intimidation being felt as a mil-bloggers when a military agency “contacts “ the Blog site and offers an alternate point of view or a link to their site. You may have noted the addition of Military sites to several Bloggers lately as they are contacted by such monitoring efforts. The Military establishment efforts are clumsy perhaps, but not yet so indefensable.

I have no doubt that the Defense establishment has likely shut down soldier sites through heavy handed local policy or enforcement of the DoD warning that includes a section specifically about blogs.

The rule was developed to enable commander’s to restrict Blogs and websites in the interests of operations security. The instantaneous nature of the internet can cause current operations to be potentially compromised by Blogger content. In those cases where such conditions exist – it makes absolute sense to shut the Blogger down or curb the questionable content.

What is disturbing to me is the sense that opinion, comments on subjective matters such as unit morale, comments regarding the Iraq War in general and other individual opinion topics may be subject to censure. My Fellow Mil-Bloggers all have different views and opinions – the sum of which would paint a pretty accurate picture of soldier and Military oriented public opinion. We all remember that suppression or denying freedom of expression is not in keeping with this countries constitution. There are already too many Freedoms given up by soldiers when they put on the uniform for sake of “Military discipline” They are fighting for the rights of all Americans in Iraq. We should allow them the right to voice opinion and comment with the caveat that the views expressed are their own on matters of their own choosing when security is not compromised. Commanders should insure that local PAO efforts do not sanitize information within this policy to the point of being the "party line" merely for the sake of conformity to Senior Leadership views. I think we would find that credibility of the Military establishment as a whole will be supported by a free exchange of comment from the soul of its inner workings.

As Bloggers we must remain diligent to government censure – thus- two quotes in closing:

"Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost."
Thomas Jefferson - 3rd President of the United States (1801-1809)

"Information voids will be filled by rumors and speculation unless they are preempted by open, credible and trustworthy communication."
Jean Keffeler

Monday, February 12, 2007

Equipment Shortages in Iraq

Read in today’s stand-to about the current shortage of advanced Frag 5 Armor Kits as reported by Ann Scott Tyson of the Washington Post. Part of that article -

By Ann Scott Tyson
Feb 12, 2007
“The Army is working to fill a shortfall in Iraq of thousands of advanced Humvee armor kits designed to reduce U.S. troop deaths from roadside bombs -- including a rising threat from particularly lethal weapons linked to Iran and known as "explosively formed penetrators" (EFP) -- that are now inflicting 70 percent of the American casualties in the country, according to U.S. military and civilian officials……
Still, Pace said last week that U.S. troops will face a gap of up-armored Humvees and other armored vehicles that will not be closed until July, and according to the Pentagon, commanders will be required to share 500 up-armored vehicles. But the Army said it is not short of up-armored Humvees in Iraq.”

The Article reminds me of the shortfalls experienced when my unit first arrived in Iraq to work for MNSTC-I. We conducted convoys all over the country with ever evolving equipment, thanks to a remarkable rapid fielding effort conducted by AMC. The picture attached is from one such convoy to/from Hillah where we used the vehicle we had which was an unarmored Chevy Suburban with our AK-47s out the window (We had not yet received M-4s) for our convoy. Within a month we had M4 rifles, and add on armored HUMMVs. Another month and we got M1114 Hummvs with better Turrets. Eventually we had full electronics (Blue Force Tracker) and other newest technology devices needed to counter the Threat.
Within the year we were in country we evolved our equipment one hundred fold in terms of capability and technology. We had nothing but the highest praise for the AMC folks serving in theater with us that pushed the greatest technologies and counter measure equipment to us. I can personally attest to fielded items of new technology and performance of such items. With improvements in capability recieved I know that on at least two occasions reciently fielded equipmen saved my team from injury due to enemy action.

The Army and DOD had shortfalls then... physics, testing, production demands and the speed of the supply chain will result in shortfalls now and for the changing conditions in the future – but all good soldiers adapt. The fielding effort behind the soldier in this conflict is better than ever before. Some of the improvement experienced today is due to new ways of doing business. Some is from the use of contractors to support the soldier (thus innovation driven by a fresh point of view and a bottomline efficiency model) .

Everyone wants the newest equipment for our soldiers in the field and they deserve nothing but the best. The people providing it are behind the scenes and often subject to media hindsight 20/20 scrutiny and criticism. The tail of the joint services is served by multitudes of dedicated employees that toil in relative obscurity, but do superb things to get necessary equipment fielded to the fight.

News about the lack of equipment stirs the hearts of those that don’t really know how far we have come in supporting our warfighters. I felt it appropriate to note the Department of Defense has made great strides in improving soldier equipment in response to changing conditions.
There will be future challenges in this effort. New enemy Tactics, techniques and equipment will press our efforts to develop more technological solutions. We can always improve our process and owe that to our soldiers…. But I thought I’d take a second and recognize the toil, effort and patriotism of DOD agency personnel that support the effort. HOOAH!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

1LT Wataba Court Martial mistrial

1LT Watada is receiving his Court Martial. You may have read about this Officer that had issue with serving in Iraq with his unit. 1st Lt. Ehren Watada was scheduled to make his first deployment to Iraq this month. His refusal to accompany the Stryker brigade troops puts him at risk of court martial and years of prison time.

I wondered if there were any parallels or related flip flops of alliegance in History. Well not exactly the same in every respect, but having similarities in betraying the trust of fellow soldiers is the Story of one Benedict Arnold.

Benedict Arnold was a hero for the American cause in the revolutionary war until he was disillusioned with the American Government. Seemed he felt disenfranchised with our Continental Congress and decided to help the other side. The difference for Benedict was the personal gain sought by his actions whereas 1LT Watada is merely seeking to avoid following orders he swore to uphold. 1LT Watada left his unit to deploy without him for personal beliefs – he was willing to pick his fight (Afghanistan) on his terms and maintains that he is not afraid to carry arms. When I read the following summation of Benedict Arnold’s actions, I am struck by the similarities.

Checking the Internet I found this passage describing the cause of Benedict Arnold's change of alliegance -
In the end, Benedict Arnold's "moral failure lay not in his disenchantment with the American cause" for many other officers returned to civilian life disgusted with the decline in republican virtue and angry over their failure to win a guaranteed pension from Congress. Nor did his infamy stem from his transfer of allegiance to the British side, for other Patriots chose to become Loyalists, sometimes out of principle but just as often for personal gain. Arnold's perfidy lay in the abuse of his position of authority and trust: he would betray West Point and its garrison "and if necessary the entire American war effort" to secure his own success. His treason was not that of a principled man but that of a selfish one, and he never lived that down. Hated in America as a consort of "Beelzebub ... the Devil," Arnold was treated with coldness and even contempt in Britain. He died as he lived, a man without a country.

REPRINTED FROM James A. Henretta, Elliot Brownlee, David Brody, Susan Ware, and Marilynn Johnson, America's History, Third Edition, Worth Publishers Inc., 1997 Copyright: Worth Publishers Inc.

1LT Wataba’s objections to serving the terms of his contract with his country are based upon his personal objections. He feels that his observation of principles allows him to exit the force that he volunteered to join in 2003 – a force at war with Iraq at the time. He trained soldiers going to Iraq – that was ok. He prepared unit equipment for Iraq – that was ok. When he was assigned to go himself – his treason began – he has reported being treated with coldness and contempt by his peers and soldiers. Little wonder he is not embraced by today’s patriots that serve in Iraq.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Mortaritaville (Baghdad blues)

I first heard this song when I was in Baghdad - apparently it was put together by a couple Louisiana National Guard soldiers stationed there before me. We listened to the song often while in country and it struck close to the truth in some respects for frustrations we had.... its not politically correct, but was and remains a humourous caricature of some of the things soldiers deal with.

Soldiers love to

Thursday, February 01, 2007

What you read in the paper

I don’t often get aggravated at editorial pieces, but this one recently appearing in the Washington Post by William M. Arkin is unbelievable. The title of the piece is “The Troops Also Need to Support the American People.” It starts with Mr Arkin stating “I've been mulling over an NBC Nightly News report from Iraq last Friday in which a number of soldiers expressed frustration with opposition to war in the United States.”

Further down in the article he states “But it is the United States, and the recent NBC report is just an ugly reminder of the price we pay for a mercenary - oops sorry, volunteer - force that thinks it is doing the dirty work...The notion of dirty work is that, like laundry, it is something that has to be done but no one else wants to do it. But Iraq is not dirty work: it is not some necessary endeavor; the people just don't believe that anymore. I'll accept that the soldiers, in order to soldier on, have to believe that they are manning the parapet, and that's where their frustrations come in. I'll accept as well that they are young and na├»ve and are frustrated with their own lack of progress and the never changing situation in Iraq. Cut off from society and constantly told that everyone supports them, no wonder the debate back home confuses them...
America needs to ponder what it is we really owe those in uniform.”

I have to take a deep breath after reading the opinion piece…For all that I despise the tone and overall message of the article, I have to say that I respect Mr. Arkin for having the stones to man-up and say what the rest of the left-leaning media have been wishing they would say if they would only sum up the courage to print it.

As a retired Reservist and a soldier that deployed to Iraq I am annoyed at Mr. Arkin's opinion that soldiers are mercenaries and/or tools of the Republican party. I firmly believe they are doing a service to the American People they swore an oath to defend at the orders of the Commander in Chief. Our soldiers are serving this country - every citizen - every politician - and every pundit regardless of their personal politics. Our soldiers are not foriegn, they are also Americans and citizens. They will receive my whole hearted support regardless of my opinion of our leadership's decisions. Taking aim at soldiers and telling them they should be grateful and support people of his ilk is distasteful.

I swore to uphold and defend the constitution of this country - and that includes the rights of people such as Mr. Arkin to voice their opinion. I believe the Washington Post has every right to publish Mr. Arkin's opinion and I have every right to voice mine that Mr. Arkin is wrong, The Paper should be viewed as participating in his distain for soldiers in allowing his opinion to see the ink from the press. I suspect that money drives the collective effort of The Washington Post and Mr. Arkin to gain notice via the article - its up to us in the public to see they don't profit from it if we disagree with their sentiments.